AWF18: Aflame, with Megan Dunn and Gigi Fenster

AWF18: Aflame, with Megan Dunn and Gigi Fenster

Aflame was one of those lovely little sessions of chatter between three people who know, understand and appreciate one another. In many ways, it’s these sessions in the slightly smaller spaces, with purely local voices, that really feel like the heartbeat of the festival.

In ‘Aflame’, the focus was on creative non-fiction by two talented New Zealand-based women. Gigi Fenster and Megan Dunn were the writers, and Carole Beu of the Women’s Bookshop was the highly competent chair. Carole understands what festival audiences want from a panel session – she was, as she said at the intro, a long term Auckland Writers Festival board member – ‘though not anymore, I’d been there too long’. That legacy of experience does makes her a prized chair.


Megan Dunn, Gigi Fenster and Carole Beu – used with the permission of Auckland Writers Festival

Carole highlighted the fact that she wanted to ensure that the discussion got across ‘how wonderfully quirky’ they both are. And as for the title of the session, it was obvious, with ‘fire and burning and fever’ winding their way through both books.

And then, both authors had the chance to expound upon the story behind their books – Dunn’s Tinderbox and Fenster’s Feverish.

Tinderbox was borne from Dunn’s desire to create a revamped version of Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451… and then evolved from there, shifting from novel to memoir in the process. She talked through her background as a roving bookseller, at Borders (RIP) in both Wellington and the UK – describing the dying days of the chain as engaging with customers who were ‘picking over the carcass for bargains’. Likely relatable for a few other booksellers out there!

Fenster touched on why fever was her focus for her memoir – describing how she ‘saw fever as a very kind of creative thing’, relating it to a sense of what went on in Victorian children’s books, with sickly but fascinating characters. ‘The initial idea was to induce a fever and then track that’, Fenster said, but thankfully for her own wellbeing, after a little research into both methods and ramifications, she thought better of it.

Both authors, after their initial contextualisations, read from their books. Dunn began hers by dedicating it to the Elam Fine Arts Library – eliciting a cheer from the crowd. The short passage started with light humour but brought in heavy elements as the temporal positioning became clear – it was set on the day of the London Underground bombings.


Megan Dunn, Gigi Fenster, Carole Beu – used with the permission of Auckland Writers Festival

At the reading’s end, Beu commented that it was an interesting choice, something so weighty, when so much of the book is hilarious, to which Dunn deadpanned ‘I bring the humour, but I bring the pain too’.

Fenster’s piece spoke of the time when her brother was desperately ill with meningitis, and examined the former role of ‘the watcher’ in the medical profession – those who would sit and wait and watch the patient until the fever broke. The significance of progress was covered, with the vast achievement of ‘I can get it myself’ (in reference to a cup of water) repeated, mantra-like.

While not discounting the care given or the medicine administered, Fenster did come to the conclusion that ‘it was the watching’, her father’s sitting at his bedside and watching him through the night, that saw her brother through.

Both writers took a wander through other aspects of the lead-up to their creating these works. Fenster spoke about a family holiday to Swaziland, where she read Wuthering Heights through the night and had the adult joy of the shared literary experience with her father. She also explained the way that some of the conversations – in what is still a non-fiction book – were created, rather than collected verbatim, but still told complete truths of the experience of the time.

Dunn explained National Novel Writing Month – NaNoWriMo to those up with acronyms – to an enquiring Carole, summing it up as ‘a writing community, with the aim to write a 50 thousand word novel in the month of November’.

She was of the ‘use it as a deadline’ school of NaNo, rather than the online forum-focused option. But in her solitude, she gave it a go, and in 2013, she succeeded, getting her 50K across the line in time. The timers that factored into the plot of Tinderbox arose from her time holding herself accountable for NaNo, with half an hour of writing before work each day.

It was a friendly, upbeat vibe, with plenty of laughter for guests and audience like. One particularly glorious – and interactive moment – was the encouraged discussion of ‘porn names’, according to the internet suggestion of ‘first pet name’ + ‘mother’s maiden name’. While I won’t repeat the specifics here, since that particular internet challenge is rather uncomfortably often a means of digging for password prompt answers – and I don’t want to jepoardise her cyber security – suffice it to say that Beu’s response was the perfect level of filthy to take the audience away in gales of laughter. The perfect way, indeed, to spend a Saturday festival afternoon.

Reviewed by Briar Lawry

Published by Galley Beggar Press
ISBN 9781910296820

Published by VUP
ISBN 9781776561803


A Feminist Reading List

We_can_do_itElizabeth Heritage asked for recommended reading lists from each of the people she interviewed in relation to our article on feminist themes at NZ literary festivals. Please feel free to add your own recommended reading at the bottom, and we will incorporate this gradually into the main list.

Our respondents were: Carole Beu, from The Women’s Bookshop, Ponsonby; Matthew Simpson from publisher HarperCollins NZ; Tilly Lloyd, from Unity Bookshop, Wellington; Writer and Lecturer Anna Jackson; Nicola Strawbridge, from Going West Festival; Kathryn Carmody, from NZ Book Council, and Rachael King, from WORD Christchurch.

cv_a_history_of_nz_women A History of NZ Women, by Barbara Brookes (BWB) Recommended by Tilly Lloyd.
• Animal: The Autobiograpghy of a Female Body, by Sara Pascoe (Faber) Recommended by Tilly Lloyd.
Bad Feminist, by  Roxanne Gay (Little, Brown) Recommended by Tilly Lloyd.
Colour of Food: a Memoir of Life, Love and Dinner, by Anne Else (Awa) Recommended by Tilly Lloyd.
Do It Like a Woman – and change the world, by Caroline Crido-Perez (Portobello)
Everywhere I Look, by Helen Garner. Helen Garner is one of my favourite feminist essayists – whose feminism, and humanism, and personality inform everything she writes on every topic. Recommended by Anna Jackson.
Fat is a feminist issue, by Susie Orbach. Orbach’s book made me see that, unless something was done urgently, what was going on around me would continue indefinitely. Highly motivating. Recommended by Maria McMillan.
Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics, by Bell Hooks is a must. Recommended by Nicola Strawbridge.
cv_the_fictional_woman Fictional Woman, by Australian crime novelist Tara Moss. (HarperCollins)  This 2014 book focuses among other things on the under-representation of women in modern entertainment, media, advertising and politics. It was a #1 Nonfiction bestseller in Australia. Recommended by Matthew Simpson.
Fifty Shades of Feminism, edited by Lisa Appignanesi, Rachel Holmes & Susie Orbach (Virago, 2013)
Published as a response to Fifty Shades of Grey – it is a brilliant collection of 50 stunning essays by a wide variety of feminists, young & old – and it has a grey cover! Recommended by Carole Beu
Fighting to Choose: the Abortion Rights Struggle in NZ, by Alison McCulloch (VUP) Recommended by Carole Beu.
• Freedom Train: The story of Harriet Tubman, by Dorothy Sterling.() I loved that Harriet Tubman, who herself escaped slavery and returned many times to help others escape, was short, not physically beautiful and plagued by narcolepsy. I knew the stakes were as big as could be and every time I read was stirred by the fact one woman, through cunning and cleverness and stubborness was responsible for life and death. Recommended by Maria McMillan.
Fury: Women Write About Sex, Power and Violence, edited by Samantha Trenoweth (Hardie Grant) Recommended by Carole Beu.
Headscarves & Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution, by Mona Eltahawy (Wiedenfeld & Nicolson) Recommended by Carole Beu.
cv_how_to_be_a_womanHow to Be A Woman, by Caitlin Moran (Ebury Press). As she says: “We need to reclaim the word ‘feminism’. We need the word ‘feminism’ back real bad. When statistics come in saying that only 29% of American women would describe themselves as feminist – and only 42% of British women – I used to think, What do you think feminism IS, ladies? What part of ‘liberation for women’ is not for you? Is it freedom to vote? The right not to be owned by the man you marry? The campaign for equal pay? ‘Vogue’ by Madonna? Jeans? Did all that good shit GET ON YOUR NERVES? Or were you just DRUNK AT THE TIME OF THE SURVEY?” Recommended by Nicola Strawbridge.
How to be Both, by Ali Smith. This is one of the loveliest novels I’ve read, about art, ambition, identity, and relationships including the relationship between a daughter and a mother. Recommended by Anna Jackson.
How to Win at Feminism (HarperCollins), the new book from the editors of the Reductress feminist satirical website, is another one we love. Never let it be said that feminists are a humourless bunch. Recommended by Matthew Simpson.
cv_I_call_myself_a_feministI Call Myself a Feminist :The View from Twenty-Five Women Under Thirty, edited by Victoria Pepe (Virago)
Virago followed Fifty Shades of Feminism up in 2015 with this great collection. Recommended by Carole Beu.
In Gratitude, by Jenny Diski (Bloomsbury) Recommended by Tilly Lloyd.
Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, by Sheryl Sandberg (W H Allen)
A more controversial, alarming book, which may start arguments that are surely worth having. Recommended by Anna Jackson.
Mary Anning’s Treasure, by Helen Bush. Like Harriet Tubman, Mary Anning was no beauty. She was gruff, proud, and as strong as a man. Once with an unexpected tide, she hoisted a woman across her shoulders and carried her to safety. I was going to be a paleontologist when I grew up because of Mary Anning. Recommended by Maria McMillan.
Men Explain Things to Me, by Rebecca Solnit (Granta) Recommended by Carole Beu, Tilly Lloyd
Moranifesto , by Caitlin Moran (Ebury press)
Then there is the wonderful Caitlin Moran. She is the first of a whole range of young women who don’t give a stuff what people think of them. Recommended by Carole Beu and Anna Jackson, who says, “I find Caitlin Moran terrifically funny and magnificently sensible.”
cv_not_that_kind_of_girlNot That Kind of Girl, by Lena Dunham. Lena Dunham and Amy Schumer are figures from popular culture whose frank and unapologetic feminism is completely central to their fame and genius. This was a huge bestseller. Recommended by Matthew Simpson.
Roll on the revolution . . . but not until after Xmas! : Selected Feminist Writing
A collection of years of feminist essays, many of them originally published in Broadsheet Magazine, from 95-year-old New Zealander Margot Roth, now living in Melbourne. The project was begun by the late great Pat Rosier (former Broadsheet editor) & has been completed by The Margot Collective (available from PDL, via Paul Greenberg). Recommended by Carole Beu, Tilly Lloyd
Sex Object, by Jessica Valenti (HarperCollins) , founder of Feministing and columnist/staff writer with The Guardian (US), is a confronting and forthright memoir about how she came to be a leading voice in third wave feminism. Recommended by Matthew Simpson.
Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman, by Lindy West (Quercus) Recommended by Carole Beu.
So Sad Today, by Melissa Broder (Scribe) Recommended by Carole Beu.
Speaking Out, by Tara Moss (HarperCollins). This is the follow up to Fictional Woman, and is a practical handbook for women and girls on speaking out safely and confidently in a world that marginalises them. Recommended by Matthew Simpson.
Scv_stuff_i_forgot_to_tell_my_daugthertuff I Forgot To Tell My Daughter, by Michele A’Court (HarperCollins). A’Court is one of NZ’s pre-eminent and funniest feminists. Recommended by Matthew Simpson.
The Argonauts, by Maggie Nelson (Text) Recommended by Tilly Lloyd and Anna Jackson, who says, “this is a brilliant mix of essay, memoir and lyric about the difficulty of negotiating parenthood, gender roles and relationship issues in a marriage with a transgender partner.”
The Blazing World, by Siri Hustvedt (Sceptre) This brilliant novel looks at the career of a woman artist who devised an art project to expose the bias against women artists: she set up a young, male imposter to pretend to have made the art works she herself would produce, then reveal her identity; as she anticipated, there was an excitement around his work her own work had never generated even though this work was very much a development of her own ideas. What she didn’t anticipate is that he would claim the work as his own, and no one would believe it was hers, despite all the proof of her workings. It is a brilliant premise and the novel draws out the twists and turns of a gripping story brilliantly, but what is ultimately so moving about the novel is its complex representation of relationships between difficult people, and the difficulty of managing personal relationships alongside ambition. Recommended by Anna Jackson.
The Changeover, by Margaret Mahy () I had no brother to save but, as the world revealed itself to me at 14 as ethically bereft and deeply women-hating, I realised I had my own personal and intergalactic crisis to deal with. There was only one thing for it. Hmm, thought I was a mere human? Pyeouw! Take that, patriarchy. Recommended by Maria McMillan.
The Fact of a Doorframe, by Adrienne Rich ()  Rich seemed to capture perfectly our own struggles in dealing with the horror of a world that seemed particularly violent towards women, and a desire, despite it all, to love, laugh and celebrate. Recommended by Maria McMillan.
The Female Eunuch, by Germaine Greer (HarperCollins). This was published over 40 years ago and it’s never been out of print. It is still a go-to work about how 20th century western society was taking away women’s agency on so many levels. Recommended by Matthew Simpson.
The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo, by Amy Schumer will certainly be just as big a smash as Lena Dunham’s book, if not bigger. Recommended by Matthew Simpson.
The Natural Way of Things, by Charlotte Wood () Recommended by Maria McMillan.
cv_unspeakable_ThingsUnspeakable Things: Sex, Lies and Revolution, by Laurie Penny (Bloomsbury). This is the book that I’d recommend to get anyone fired up about feminism. Recommended by Kathryn Carmody.
We Should All Be Feminists, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (4th Estate) Recommended by Carole Beu, Matthew Simpson, Tilly Lloyd. Matthew adds, “We should all be feminists is something every young woman and man should be afforded the chance to hear or read.”
Who was that Woman Anyway: Snapshots of a Lesbian Life, by Aorewa McLeod (VUP) Recommended by Tilly Lloyd.
Why Science is Sexist, by Nicola Gaston (BWB Texts) Recommended by Tilly Lloyd.
Witches: Salem 1692, by Stacy Schiff (Weidenfeld) Recommended by Tilly Lloyd.

And some online recommendations, from Rachael King, WORD Christchurch Director:
I love On the Rag, The Spinoff’s podcast which is run by Alex Casey, who is writing some fantastic commentary on the representation of women in the media. The Spinoff is publishing a lot of good feminist writing. Alex will be at the festival of course, along with three other Spinoff editors.

I also recommend BUST, which isn’t widely available in New Zealand but which can be found online. It was started in the Riot Grrl era and has kept on going. When I first was introduced to it by my friend Gemma Gracewood, I found it incredibly refreshing and encouraging. So of course I had to take Gemma with me when I met with Debbie Stoller in New York – it was a wonderful meeting of minds.

Two feminist writers are visiting for WORD Christchurch in a week or so: Tara Moss, noted earlier; and Nadia Hashimi, whom Matthew Simpson says is “an Afghan-American novelist whose stories of the intimate lives and struggles of women in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan are imbued with a strong message of female solidarity across national and cultural divides.”

Tell us your favourite feminist reads below, and we’ll add them to the list.

Feminist Days, Susie Orbach with Carole Beu at #AWF16

One of the things that particularly attracts me about this year’s Auckland Writers Festival programme is the chance to hear some major feminist thinkers. Feminist Days, Susie Orbach in conversation with Carole Beu, was a joy.

cv_fat_is_a_feminist_issueOrbach has just republished an updated edition of her classic text Fat is a Feminist Issue, which she rather sweetly refers to as Fifi. Originally published in the 1970s, “Fifi, unfortunately, has stayed in print”. Unfortunately because, far from getting better, the problem of body hatred and compulsive eating has become radically worse.

Beu did an excellent job of interviewing, keeping her questions direct and her remarks pertinent and brief. Orbach spoke of the ways in which fatness can be an – often unconscious – “way of negotiating horrors and attacks on our bodies from visual culture”. To be fat is to “take up a different kind of space, to challenge ideas, and express discomfort with way femininity is represented” – although she noted that increasingly boys and men are suffering from a disordered relationship with food as well.

pp_susie_orbachOrbachn (left), who works as a psychotherapist, is horrified by the ways in which she sees her patients accepting disgust of their own bodies as expected and unfixable: “We have normalised self-hatred”. She says, “The public health emergency we have is disturbed eating and disturbed relationships with our bodies … people are frightened of food … food becomes a complicated, magical site, both nourishing and scary.” The point of therapy, though, is “to find the words you never found before, to have someone who can absorb them and recognise their importance.”

Orbach is interested in the ways in which we acquire our senses of our own bodies: “The human body is made in human culture and relationships … Body-to-body relationships create the bodies we have.” She is concerned by the ways in which the distressed body can be transmitted from mother to child, and the rise of eating disorders and body image problems in very young children: “We carry distress in our embodiment”. Orbach spoke scathingly of the ways in which the diet and food industries are poisoning our relationships with our own bodies: “They’re increasing profits by selling us non-foods that are addictive rather than nourishing … it’s vulture capitalism.”

A huge crowd had come to see Orbach, and Beu left plenty of time for questions. Audience questions are always a bit of a crapshoot, but I have to say the standard of questions in this session was very high. Asked about what she hopes for girls growing up now, Orbach said,“To have a life of meaning and contribution, finding things that really interest you … this is very hard under [the] neoliberal ideology of success and money … one of the definitions of human beings is that we have dependency needs, but our culture is vested in us denying this … We need to talk about way of owning these needs and the struggle to be complicated.”

I was particularly struck by something Orbach said towards the end of the session: “We think there has to be a solution to everything, but a listening ear is the most powerful thing we have to give.”

Recently, Orbach has been working on a BBC Radio 4 programme called In Therapy, which is available for free download. I’m now looking forward to Gloria Steinem later tonight!

Reviewed by Elizabeth Heritage

Susie Orbach will also appear during the Auckland Writer’s Festival with Jeanette Winterson on Saturday, 14 May, at 3.00pm, as well as tonight at the Pop-up festival with Jeanette Winterson, at 9.00pm.

Fat is a Feminist Issue, published by Arrow Books Ltd, ISBN 9781784753092
Bodies, published by Profile Books Ltd, ISBN 9781846680298


A celebration of 25 years of The Women’s Bookshop

Womens BookshopThe Women’s Bookshop celebrated 25 years of business, with a big party at Ponsonby Central, on Monday evening. With their innovative events such as the Ladies Litera-tea, and plenty of Booksellers’ Industry Awards for their great service and knowledgeable staff, these guys have certainly been an important part of the book world in Auckland for the past 25 years.

If you haven’t yet been in to congratulate them, pop in between 6pm and 8pm on Thursday and Friday nights all April, and get a free glass of wine so you can help them celebrate!

Speeches at the Womens Bookshop party

Great book trade gathering for The Women’s Bookshop 25th birthday held at Ponsonby Central (photo: Anna Comrie-Thomson)

Colin Pinfold (Penguin), Rachel Cooper (Random), Marthie Markstein (Random) Michele Hyland, Carole Beu, Margaret Thompson (Penguin), Suzie Maddock (Hachette)

Colin Pinfold (Penguin), Rachel Cooper (Random), Marthie Markstein (Random) Michele Hyland, Carole Beu, Margaret Thompson (Penguin), Suzie Maddock (Hachette) (photo: Anna Comrie-Thomson)

Witi Ihimaera, Carole Beu

Witi Ihimaera and Carole Beu (photo: Anna Comrie-Thomson)


Anne Kennedy, Alexa Johnston, Carole Beu, Sue Orr, Sarah Laing

Authors Anne Kennedy, Alexa Johnston, Sue Orr, and Sarah Laing, with owner Carole Beu (Photo: Anna Comrie-Thomson)

Anne O Brien Christine O'Brien Carole Beu, Ka Meechan, Karen Ferns

Anne O’Brien (Auckland Writers Festival), Christine O’Brien (Auckland University Press), Carole Beu, Ka Meechan, Karen Ferns (Random House) (photo: Anna Comrie-Thomson)


All photos were taken by, and are copyright Anna Comrie-Thomson.

– Sarah Forster

The Women’s Bookshop boomed this Christmas

womensbookshop_logoThe Women’s Bookshop turns 25 in April this year. What better way to celebrate than with our best Christmas in 25 years!

I was interested to read in The Read that the ‘books boom’ didn’t extend to all bookshops – so we started discussing what made this our most profitable Christmas in the history of the shop.

We sold heaps of quality fiction – hundreds of The Luminaries and The Goldfinch, both of cv_the_goldfinchwhich we pre-gift-wrapped in huge piles so people could grab the wrapping they preferred – but also lots of books that we had read and could personally recommend. We were so busy we often needed all staff behind the counter, so it was sometimes hard to get out onto the crowded shop floor to do some hand-selling – but when we did we sold lots of Americanah (Chimamnda Ngozi Adichie), The Last Days of the National Costume (Anne Kennedy), May We Be Forgiven (A M Homes), The Hired Man (Aminatta Forna), Life After Life (Kate Atkinson), The Embassy of Cambodia (Zadie Smith), The Roundhouse (Louise Erdrich), The Signature of All Things (Elizabeth Gilbert), and Blood & Beauty (Sarah Dunant)

Non-fiction was also great for us this year – Peter McLeavey and Marti Friedlander, This is the Story of a Happy Marriage (Ann Patchett), Bonkers (Jennifer Saunders), Eat (Nigel Slater), Empress Dowager (Jung Chang), The Boys in the Boat (Daniel James Brown), Fifty Shades of Feminism (Ed. Lisa Appignanesi, Rachel Holmes & Susie Orbach)

Because we decided to take the excellent cover_catalogue_coverSummer Reading Catalogue produced by Booksellers NZ we were forced to order more broadly than usual – very good for me! A few books in it were not entirely relevant to our shop but we mailed it out to our 4000 database accompanied by just a single glossy sheet of our own that included ‘our’ books – eg: Fifty Shades of Feminism. We still have a little table on the pavement outside the shop with a pile of the catalogue and a sign saying ‘Please help yourself’. We restock it daily.

I ordered boldly in November (knowing I could pay for stock in December but that cashflow could be frighteningly light in January!). Having large quantities of key titles prominently displayed helped sales.

Winning Penguin NZ Bookseller of the Year definitely helped our profile, along with the Honourable Mention (with Time Out; Unity was deservedly the winner) in Metro Magazine’s Best of Auckland 2013.

pp_carole_beuI’m sure there was an Eleanor Catton factor operating too – creating awareness of and excitement about books. So many of our customers said “We feel so proud of her”.

Retail was up generally, people seemed more aware of buying locally, and they wanted real books, beautifully wrapped, as gifts. We were also aware of how strongly our customers have come to trust our judgement. We are four experienced women – Tanya Gribben, Mary-Liz Corbett, Patricia Kay and myself, who all read avidly, have been involved in literary festivals and events for years and who are skilled at talking about books with people.

Written by Carole Beu
Owner of The Women’s Bookshop, Ponsonby, Auckland
January 2014

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